Hiring a friend: Why it's a bad idea for your urology practice

January 1, 2012

Hiring a friend is usually not a good idea, because it can cause more problems in your practice than it solves.

This thinking seems to fit with intuition, and it sure makes things easier in the short term to fill that employment gap with a friend. But it's usually not a good idea, because it can cause more problems in your practice than it solves. What's more, you're putting a valued relationship at risk. This article will explain why hiring a friend is often not the best move.

Perceived favoritism is one of the most common sources of staff bickering and dysfunctional communication that we see in practices. It's exceedingly difficult to avoid this problem when friends and relatives are hired into the practice-especially if one friend is supervising another. Sometimes, we encounter practice managers who have truly done everything possible to avoid the appearance of favoritism-even overcompensating-but the other staff members are nonetheless suspicious and assume they'll get an unfair shake in the event of a conflict with the "favored" newcomer.

Whether the favoritism is actual or imagined, the effect on the practice is very real. To perform at their best, your employees must believe they will be treated fairly. If hiring a friend undermines that trust, productivity could not only suffer because of conflicts; some employees could decide to leave the practice altogether, leaving you worse off than before you hired the friend.

You may think you know your friend's strengths very well, and your friend may think she understands the job you've described perfectly, but what if there is a gap between the job you need done and your friend's capabilities?

Delivering corrective feedback on job performance is never easy, but sharing constructive criticism with a friend or loved one is significantly harder. And what if the performance gap can't be closed? Before you consider hiring a friend or relative, take some time to envision what it would be like to fire him. If you can't imagine your relationship surviving that conversation, it's best to keep looking for a new hire with whom you don't have personal ties.

It's not hard to imagine that your relationship with a friend could be damaged if you have to fire him or her. But working together creates opportunities for resentments and ill will even before it gets that far. For example, what if your friend decided she deserves a raise that you don't believe is justified by market benchmarks or her performance? If you say no, your friend's feelings will be hurt. Either way, you may feel resentful because you feel pressured. Even more subtly, what if you notice that your friend takes a few more sick days than you think is acceptable or is late for work a bit more often than other staff? Will you feel that he is taking advantage of your friendship?

Generally speaking, if you're thinking of hiring a friend for a position in your practice, it's probably best to think again. Your need to act as an authority figure can create friction and resentment in your personal relationship, and the presence of a "favored" person in your practice can upset the morale of the rest of the team. And if you need to fire your friend for any reason, it could mean that your friendship has come to an unhappy end.

But what if the role is temporary, or if you won't be your friend's direct supervisor? What if the work can be performed outside the office? In certain narrow circumstances-for example, a short-term project-hiring a friend might be a reasonable option. Just be sure to consider the impact on your team, and how you'll get clarity on your friend's role and the financial terms of your relationship, to avoid painful misunderstandings.

For example, if you need help with collections, and your friend runs a collection agency, you can hire your friend's firm without creating internal friction, and the pay-for-performance nature of collections will minimize financial conflicts. Another example is help with project work like technology implementations, where you'll pay once the work is done. Even in these situations, though, be sure to vet your friend's qualifications as you would any other external consultant to minimize the possibility of having to have a difficult conversation with a dear friend down the road.

Joe Capko is a senior health care consultant with Capko & Co. who specializes in research, marketing, social media, business development, and strategic planning. Judy Capko is a health care consultant and the author of Take Back Time-Bringing Time Management to Medicine. They can be reached at joe@capko.com
or judy@capko.com